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Kathryn Hayley ’84, CEO of Aon Hewitt Consulting, Americas, addressed students at a May 16 symposium on Kellogg’s Part-Time campus. “Any certainty is better than uncertainty for your people,” Hayley said.

Kathryn Hayley ’84, CEO of Aon Hewitt Consulting, Americas, addressed students at a May 16 symposium on Kellogg’s Part-Time campus. “Any certainty is better than uncertainty for your people,” Hayley said.

A tale of two cultures

Aon Hewitt Consulting CEO Kathryn Hayley ’84 shares a textbook example of successful change management

By Cheryl SooHoo

5/26/2011 - Seamless integration 101: Keep the “un” away from “certainty” and you’ll do just fine or, at least, quell some of the employee fears often generated by corporate mergers.

“Any certainty is better than uncertainty for your people,” said Kathryn Hayley ’84, CEO of Aon Hewitt Consulting, Americas, as she addressed students at a May 16 Symposium on Managerial Leadership. Sponsored by Kellogg’s Part-Time Women’s Business Association, the talk featured a discussion on leading through change. Hayley, former CEO of Aon Consulting, shared her experience melding the corporate cultures of insurance broker giant Aon with human resources firm Hewitt Associates. Aon Consulting, a subsidiary of Aon, announced its acquisition of Hewitt last July. By October, the two Chicagoland companies had sealed a $4.9 billion deal.

“Take out the uncertainty in your organization as fast as you can because even if you are wrong, you’re usually only wrong a little bit and can fix it later,” she said. “Within three months of making the announcement, we already had defined most of the organization and put leaders in boxes [on the org chart].”

The lightning-speed merger of Aon and Hewitt created one of the world’s largest global human resources and human capital consulting firms. Since forming, the professional services organization has depended on the guidance of Hayley, her new “blended” leadership team, and the company’s very own Mergers and Acquisition (M&A) group for a smooth integration.

“It’s so fun to practice on yourself,” remarked Hayley. “And serve a very demanding client, which happens to be us!”

Perhaps the ideal client, Aon Hewitt Consulting has closely followed its own integration advice. From the get-go, the firm has stayed on top of communicating changes and eliciting feedback. Communication vehicles have ranged from town-hall meetings and focus groups to fireside web-cast chats with company leaders. The company has placed renewed emphasis on training and career planning to reassure and retain key talent. And it has invested heavily in cultural integration by encouraging personal and professional interaction via meetings, parties and social gatherings.

“Those in the new organization who are the most satisfied and engaged are ones who’ve met their peers from the other firm and worked together to solve client problems,” noted Hayley. “As time goes on and people get to know each other and realize they have the same interests and worries, the stress goes away.”